Wednesday 23 October 2019

Minister does U-turn over decision to scrap retrofit grant scheme after outcry

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton
Minister for Communications Richard Bruton

Caroline O'Doherty

Householders with essential home improvement plans left in disarray by the sudden ending of the deep retrofit grant scheme will be able to continue the work after a Government U-turn.

Some remain concerned, however, the funding will not be reinstated as soon as expected, leaving them in freezing homes over the winter.

Communications, Climate Action and Environment Minister Richard Bruton reversed the decision to scrap the scheme after a week of public outcry, saying he regretted the distress it had caused.

Around 300 householders had applied for funding worth up to €60,000 to modernise their home heating, insulation and ventilation systems when the scheme, run by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), was scrapped.

While the rules say no work should be undertaken until the grant is approved, gathering technical information to accompany grant applications costs around €2,500 and some householders had already spent thousands more preparing their homes for the more complex grant-aided works.

Alex Hamilton, senior energy engineer with the Kilkenny-based 3 Counties Energy Agency, which has 50 homeowners awaiting grant approval, said the past week had been hugely frustrating.

"The decision to end the scheme came out of the blue.

"We got no prior warning and when people started calling us looking for information, we had none to give them.

"People were very upset, very worried and very angry. It was not well thought-out. It was not the way to treat people.

"The reversal is very welcome but to have a swing like that from last week to this week makes us wary. We'll be waiting for letters of offer and confirmation of contracts before we feel completely reassured," she said.

Elaine Bradley, who is seeking €56,000 to make her rural Wicklow home habitable, said she feared there would now be a delay in getting it as the minister said most of the funding, which is normally released in October, would be drawn down during 2020.

"I am living in a summer house outside my home and I'm not alone as others are not living in suitable conditions and they need help now, not next year," Ms Bradley said.

Retrofitting is a key feature of the Climate Action Plan which aims to revamp 500,000 homes by 2030, but the current deep retrofit scheme will end when the outstanding applications are finalised.

Mr Bruton is setting up a taskforce to design new schemes.

"The present range of programmes offered by the SEAI will not be adequate to the challenge of climate action," he said.

He said it was always intended to review the deep retrofit scheme after a pilot period, but he accepted it was unreasonable to halt it in the middle of applications.

Irish Independent

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